About 200 ducks overwinter in Fairbanks
Each year about 200 ducks stay over winter in the Fairbanks metropolitan area. They build feathers with more branches for insulation from the low temperatures in the double digits below zero (colder than -23oC). However, even in winter, ducks need open water for survival. In the Interior and not far from Fairbanks, what an Alaskan calls not far, several hot springs exist. But the largest open water areas are due to the power plants’ waste water that prohibits a large stretch of the river downstream from freezing.
Wastewater of the power plant provides open water
The power plant located in downtown Fairbanks, for instance, leads to open water in the Chena River for more than 1.5 miles downstream. On cold winter days, the river “steams” and white ice fog builds over the open river. When viewed from the hills north of town, the ice fog over the Chena looks like a giant snake crowling and winding thru the city.
Ducks stay close to the river and feed on seeds from bird feeders
The ducks stay close to the open river stretches either on the river banks or in yards adjacent to the river and its many sloughs. They dig in the snow for seeds from trees, sunflowers, and seeds fallen onto the ground under bird feeders. Often you see them resting close to each other (like in the middle of the photo above) to stay warm, while some other ducks build a larger circle around them and make the watch. When one of them gives an alarm, a Hitchcock like scene evolves. All ducks go up and fly towards the open water of the Chena River.
Ravens scavenge household garbage for dog food
Other birds that often stay over winter are ravens, wild doves, and finches. The ravens feed on roadkill and search the dumpsters at the transfer stations for leftover dog and cat food during the day. They often sit on street lamps to warm up. At night, they fly into the hills where it is warmer during the nighttime inversions than it is in the valley.
The doves work the dumpsters, school yards and the seeds fallen down under bird feeders. Both doves and ducks benefit from squirls who throw everything out of even “squirl-save birdfeeders” that is not a sunflower seed.
The various types of finches hide on cold snowy days, while on sunny days they sit on the dirt roads of the outskirts of Fairbanks and munch on birch and alder seeds that fell off the trees after the last snow storm. They also visit bird feeders, but again only on sunny days.
Christmas bird counting
Each Christmas there is a volunteer bird counting. In spring, Creamer’s field and the University of Alaska Fairbanks experimental farm become bird paradises for all kinds of birds that overwintered in the South.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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